Seacrest said the show still reflects Clark's original vision: Bring together the year's most popular artists and "let the music speak for itself."
"Dick loved the power of music and its ability to create pure joy," Seacrest said Sunday before introducing Wonder, whom he described someone Clark loved as a friend and musician for 49 years.
"I remember his friendship and his kindness. I remember his love for music and his love for people," Wonder said. "I challenge you, you as communicators, leaders, politicians, spiritual leaders: Put your love first like we musicians put our music first... Then we can be jamming until the break of dawn."
Wonder played a medley of songs as images of Clark and the many musicians he worked with flashed across the screen.
Other artists shared their admiration for Clark on the red carpet and backstage at the Nokia Theatre. Will.i.am, who presented the artist of the year award to Justin Bieber, said Clark's legacy for spotting and encouraging talent is why the American Music Awards have endured for 40 years.
"I remember seeing Whitney Houston on the American Music Awards. Lionel Richie. Santana. Jefferson Airplane," he said. "Think of all the classic, iconic television moments. Now, my generation is part of it and the next generation is part of this American iconic family time."
Usher, who was named favorite male soul/R&B artist Sunday, said he always admired Clark and aims to emulate his legacy of fostering young talent.
"He's so rich with culture and been able to recognize talent for so many years and have an incredible legacy. I'm just really happy to still be a part of it and still take an award home," Usher said. "To be an artist that's been able to continue to evolve and transcend culture, it's from the book of Dick Clark, the fact that he's, throughout generations, been able to recognize incredible talent across genres."
Usher helps guide the career of the night's big winner, Bieber, who accepted awards for pop/rock male artist, pop/rock album for "Believe" and artist of the year Sunday.
"The proof is in the pudding," Usher said. "The longer you do it, the more of an example you can set and being able to be that to him, being a mentor and just being an artist who continues to evolve... we're just going to continue to push him to be his best self."